In the House of Commons yesterday, Labour MP for Swansea East, Carolyn Harris, launched a Private Members Bill specifically relating to the Menopause.
The Bill has a number of aims including better education through the school curriculum as well as for healthcare professionals, especially GP training, and greater support for working women through the introduction of workplace policies.
It also aims to scrap prescription charges for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for women in England which will bring them into line with the rest of the United Kingdom who currently do not have to pay for HRT.
How Much Does HRT Cost Women in England?
In England, if women are fortunate enough to find a GP who is confident to prescribe and up to date with the current guidelines on the safety and effectiveness of modern HRT, she would need to pay £9.35 per item for her medication.
For some women this could equate to nearly £30 per month.
Often oestrogen and progesterone are prescribed as separate items, incurring two charges. If a woman is also needing vaginal oestrogen, this would be seen as an additional item and therefore an additional charge.
Patients in England can take advantage of a pre-pay prescription certificate which would bring the cost down to £10.59 however this cost is still potentially prohibitive for many women on very low income.
Patients with other long-term hormone related conditions such as diabetes or hypothyroidism are exempt prescription charges in England and since 2011 all NHS prescriptions have been free for residents of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Menopause affects 100% of all women, assuming they live long enough, which is more than 50% of the population. It is caused because key hormones in the body, and particularly oestrogen, are no longer produced.
There are long term health risks associated with lost oestrogen for which HRT has been shown to offer protective benefits, including a reduction in the risk of heart disease, brain disease and bone density loss.
Whilst menopause is a natural part of the female life cycle, the effects of lowering hormone levels can lead to a number of associated symptoms including anxiety and depression, concentration and memory issues, insomnia and fatigue, headaches and joint pain.
For many women HRT is a life changer enabling them to function better and feel more ‘normal’ again. Many women tell me that finally being prescribed HRT has literally ‘given them their life back’.
HRT has been proven to be more effective in dealing with low mood and depression in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women than antidepressants, yet all too often doctors are quick to prescribe antidepressant drugs without even considering if HRT would be a better solution.
What are the risks associated with HRT?
There are many misconceptions around the safety of HRT with the potential risks being perceived as too high.
However current evidence, and guidance from the British Menopause Society, is that for the vast majority of women, the benefits of modern HRT far outweigh the risks and should be the first course of treatment for menopause symptoms.
Menopause expert and GP Dr Louise Newson, who runs a specialist menopause clinic in Stratford upon Avon, is an advocate for the use of HRT, not just for menopause symptom management but also for long term health protection.
The risks are generally associated with the potential for developing breast cancer, however when looked at in context. the risks associated with HRT are much lower than for many other factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol or being overweight. In fact for women who have had surgery to remove their womb and therefore only need to take oestrogen, there is no associated risk of breast cancer.
Ignorance around associated risk and misreporting of the risks in the last 20 years, have created much misunderstanding and fear around HRT.
The number of women being offered HRT is very low and in fact only about 30-40% of women struggling with menopause related symptoms even visit their GP. Of those that do at least a third are not made aware of HRT and many are being given inaccurate advice or are flatly refused treatment.
The Private Members Bill, if it eventually goes through, will hopefully be a positive catalyst for change in the way menopause is managed within health care and the workplace and is undoubtedly a step in the right direction towards greater understanding and fairer treatment for women.
Menopause has been termed the ‘last workplace taboo’, following in the footsteps of other taboos such as mental health. Thankfully, high profile conversations around menopause such as the recent Davina McCall documentary for Channel 4, ‘Sex, Myths and the Menopause’, have done an amazing job in getting people talking.
I know from the dozens of organisations and businesses that I have worked with over the last 3 years to raise awareness of menopause through workplace training, that we are most certainly moving in the right direction.
Many forward-thinking employers are recognising the impact of menopause on their employees and the subsequent impact on recruitment and retention of talented, experienced female colleagues.
For many working women struggling with menopause symptoms, HRT can be the difference between whether they can continue with their job or not.
Let’s hope that the Bill goes through, GPs get the training they desperately need, HRT becomes much more readily available to those who need it and all businesses put measures in place to support and retain their female folk.
To find out more about how Floresco Training and Coaching can help your business to become a menopause friendly employer visit www.florescotraining.co.uk or give us a call on 01778 302464. We have training packages suitable for all employees as well as workshops specifically for managers and female colleagues and provide training for in-house Menopause Champions.
We also offer one to one and group coaching programmes for professional women transitioning through menopause or wanting to improve their performance in the workplace.